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A Spo-Fan asked me to write about fetishes.
Fetishes (for those who don’t know) are single objects or behaviors that become sexualized. In 1905 Freud wrote “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality”. He was a brilliant writer and people interested in his theories would find it easy and intriguing to read (unlike Jung who was a terrible writer). Freud looked at sexuality, first trying to define ‘normal’ sexuality, which means two adults of the opposite sex engaging in genital intercourse. He tried to better understand people who deviated from this; he used the word perversion to define a deviation from standard intercourse, and those who did so were perverts. Yet, he tried to untangle pleasure from procreation, which did not completely coincide. He pointed out the obvious: sexual pleasure can be obtained from any part/zone of the body. These “component instincts’ are normal parts of human sexuality. Yet, some people were specifically eroticized towards something other than the usual.
Fetishes and perversions (in Freudian theory) were side tracks or road blocks towards more normal/usual human sexual development. He would go on to hypothesize this transfer of libido to the fetish object was the result of early childhood sexual trauma. In theory, working through the trauma would dry up the fetish and the person would move onto ‘normal’ sexuality. This didn’t seem to work though. Most people better understood ‘what floats my boat’, and perhaps some of the elements of the fetish, but few ‘gave it up’. Nowadays we have ongoing challenge of what is ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ sexuality. I don’t think any shrink worth his salt spends time trying to analyze away a fetish, unless the fetish is causing trouble.
I am not as familiar with the Native American views on fetish objects. They seem to be positive, spiritual objects. I understand they are objects towards which and from psychic energies derive. Which may be the same thing as Freud’s description of a fetish, other than the judgment it is wrong and should be changed.
I think what the requesting Spo-fan wants to know though is ‘what causes someone to be attracted to a fetish?” Truth is no one really knows. No one event or explanation explains why a person is drawn to an object. An object calls to us, or (in sex) some object stimulates us. Fetishes have complex (pun intended) ingredients of archetypes, experiences, reinforcements, memories and perhaps some trauma too.
I once asked a professor of analytical psychiatry what is the hardest thing in human nature to understand. She replied “Another person’s love object. There’s no accounting of taste”.